ASK RETIREES WHERE THEY want to live, and chances are they’ll say they want to age in place. In 2014, an AARP survey found 87 percent of those age 65 and older said they wanted to remain in their current home and community as they get older.
However, living at home in your golden years comes with challenges. Homeowners who used to easily climb ladders to change lightbulbs and clean gutters may not be as spry anymore. Those who try to hire out the tasks may find it difficult to locate dependable workers or determine if a worker is charging a fair price. Plus, older Americans can be common targets for unscrupulous contractors and repair providers.
“We’ve [heard] all these horror stories of someone knocking on the door and saying you need new windows,” says Mike Lynch, vice president of strategic markets for Hartford Funds. In some cases, the windows might not be needed, and in others, the company may be charging an exorbitant price and hoping to take advantage of unsuspecting seniors. Similar scenarios may play out with people selling roofing, siding or driveway repairs.
While hiring a service provider who is going door to door or making unsolicited phone calls is not advisable, retirees can find trustworthy home maintenance assistance through the following five sources.
Seek help from family and friends. When it comes to finding inexpensive help around the house, the best bet for retirees may be seeing whether adult children or other relatives can help. Those who belong to a church or synagogue may find assistance from such institutions as well. Many religious communities have ministries that can provide older members with the assistance they need. For instance, youth groups might volunteer to rake leaves or do yard maintenance in the spring or fall.
Retirees may also find it beneficial to consult with neighbors about needed repairs. Even if neighbors aren’t in a position to help with maintenance needs directly, they may already use trusted providers they can recommend. What’s more, if you and your neighbor have a similar need, such as gutters that must be cleaned, you may be able to negotiate a better rate by looking for a contractor together.
Look for aid from community organizations. Many areas of the country are served by nonprofit organizations that can help retirees obtain affordable or free home maintenance assistance. The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens is one example. It has been offering free home maintenance to income-eligible seniors since 1981. Today, it serves more than 4,000 people throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
“We do everything possible to help people remain in their own homes,” says Linda Hoffman, president of the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens. The service providers that contract with the foundation go through a rigorous application process and may complete multiple repairs for the same resident. As for the relationship between workers and the seniors they serve, “They treat them like family,” Hoffman says.
To determine whether similar programs are available in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. The national network of agencies was established by the federal Older Americans Act, and offices often serve as a clearinghouse for local resources to assist those age 60 and older. A local United Way office may also be able to direct you to local resources.
Get assistance from home health care providers. Some seniors already have helpers in their house in the form of home health aides or personal companions. These workers often help with tasks such as vacuuming, dusting and washing dishes, although they typically don’t perform repairs or more involved maintenance. “As you can imagine, most of them are not going to get up and fix your roof,” says Peter Ross, co-founder and CEO of Senior Helpers, an agency that provides seniors with in-home care.
However, don’t overlook an aide’s potential to identify problems and help find trustworthy contractors to address the issues. Senior Helpers, for example, does a home evaluation for every new client and makes recommendations for improving safety, such as removing throw rugs in hallways and installing grab bars in bathrooms. “We are the eyes and ears in that home,” Ross says.
When maintenance or home repairs are needed, Senior Helpers can connect homeowners or their families with trusted partners to complete necessary work. Other in-home care providers, such as Homecare by Design, offer home maintenance packages that build in services such as appliance maintenance and minor electrical and plumbing work.
Turn to a trusted financial advisor. Lynch says retirees may be able to find referrals to quality home repair services in an unexpected place. He suggests retirees contact their financial advisor.
Many financial advisors have relationships with people from various walks of life and have compiled a list of trusted providers across a variety of industries. Older homeowners who aren’t sure how to find someone to help with home maintenance may find their financial planner is able to vouch for a reliable worker in their area.
Beyond helping to find a service provider, an advisor can help retirees build maintenance costs into their budget. If a more expensive renovation is needed, a financial professional can assist with weighing possible payment options and help a homeowner select the right one.
Online service providers. Retirees who aren’t eligible for free community programs or who can’t find a personal recommendation can turn to the internet to find handymen and tradesmen for hire. Sites like Angie’s List and TaskRabbit are open for any provider to submit a business listing. Consumers can search company profiles, read reviews and use that information to select the right person for the job. Other services, like Neighborly, contract out with specific service providers.
“It’s not just 30,000 plumbers who happen to be available,” says Dina Dwyer-Owens, brand ambassador for home services provider Neighborly, about the providers listed on the site. These workers have to meet certain qualifications, including passing a criminal background check. For peace of mind, some online services such as Neighborly provide a photograph of the repair technician so seniors can be assured that the person at the door does indeed represent the company.
Regardless of how a person finds their service provider, some steps should be taken to ensure a positive experience. Retirees can look up reviews online or contact their local homebuilders’ association or Better Business Bureau to inquire about a business’s reputation. They should also be sure to get a written quote outlining not only the price, but also the scope of work to avoid any sticker shock later on.While home maintenance tasks can become more difficult as we age, with myriad free and paid service providers there are a number of avenues you can take to find help with home repairs and improvements – without compromising on quality or overspending.
While home maintenance tasks can become more difficult as we age, with myriad free and paid service providers there are a number of avenues you can take to find help with home repairs and improvements – without compromising on quality or overspending.